Tips for Effective Interaction With the Child With Autism
by Rynae Golke
If you work in healthcare, you have likely perfected the art of communicating with patients, peers, and family members from all walks of life. Interacting effectively with your patients and their families is at the center of what you do, regardless of your role in healthcare. Patient compliance and outcome are heavily dependent upon the message they receive from their caregivers and other healthcare professionals.
Today, we’ll learn more about effective interaction with one patient in particular: the patient with autism. When you use these techniques and tricks, you can improve your communication and understanding of your patients with autism and look forward to more positive results.
1. Don’t Stare.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, patients with autism often display repetitive self-regulating behaviors, such as rocking back and forth or clapping their hands together. Many patients are very self-conscious about these mannerisms and even more so when others stare or draw attention to their differences. As a caregiver or provider, you can connect better with your patients with autism if you overlook these behaviors rather than stare.
2. Respect the “Shield”
Have you ever had a conversation with a patient who is simply not connecting with you? This is common when working with autistic patients, who may withdraw when stimulation becomes overwhelming or overbearing, and who may not make eye contact during your conversation. According to the Centers for Disease Control, children with autism spectrum disorders often display inappropriate or flat facial expressions and resist physical contact.
Remember that although your patient may look just like any other patient, his or her communication can be greatly impacted by the disease. These signs are not indications of disrespect or disinterest.
3. Don’t Degrade
Never, never make a mean or ill comment about a patient with an autism spectrum disorder under the assumption that the patient cannot hear or understand you. Even when they appear to be disengaged, the chances are high that they can not only hear you but experience genuine hurt and mistrust as a result.
As in all cases, treat the patient with a high level of respect at all times, focusing on the reason for the visit and the solution. Make an effort to connect with the patient just as you would with any other patient, showing interest in their lives and satisfaction with their progress. When pointed conversations between healthcare professionals are required, leave the room and find a private place to talk.
4. Separate the Person from the Behavior
When you can mentally separate the person inside from the behaviors being displayed you can display more sincere compassion and interest in your patients. Look past the behaviors and make an effort to understand how your patient ticks, such as what he is good at, what he likes to talk about, how is he feeling, or what does he need from you.
When you can gain control of your own thoughts, your behaviors will follow. Patients will begin to trust you more and your communication – both give and take – will improve.
5. Don’t Judge
Never believe what you read on Facebook. There is no evidence to support the theory that autism is caused by vaccinating children or any other factor within the control of the parent or the child. As a matter of fact, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, autism can be caused by three known factors:
- syndromes or problems that have a genetic link
- serious infections that directly affect the brain, such as meningitis or encephalitis
- exposure to toxins or infections during pregnancy, such as rubella
Parents are the experts when it comes to judging themselves. They should never schedule a doctor’s appointment to be guilted into believing that they caused or could have prevented the disease in their child.
6. Focus on Helping
It is not your role to control the child with autism or an autism spectrum disorder; shift your focus from controlling to helping. Trying to modify the child’s behaviors for your convenience is 1) typically a fruitless effort, as it can take years to learn and understand how to influence one child with autism, much less all of them, and 2) increasing communication barriers as the child is more likely to withdraw. Put special effort into listening and reacting in a helpful, non-judgmental way, and leave the correction to the parents.
You went into the healthcare industry because you want to help people in all walks of life. You’ve already shown your commitment to helping patients with autism spectrum disorders by taking the time to complete this course; now, take it to the next level by putting your new skills to work in every day practice. The takeaway? Patients with autism are people, too, deserving of your unbiased help and genuine concern.